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Free the Philadelphia Facts

WorldNetDaily refuses to tell its readers the full story about arrested anti-gay protesters.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 1/14/2005

WorldNetDaily is doing its best to slavishly adhere to a slanted conservative script in its coverage of the case of a group of Christians arrested during a protest at a Philadelphia gay festival.

Last October, 11 members of group called Repent America were arrested at a gathering of gays in Philadelphia called Outfest, five of whom were later charged. Since then, WND has done 10 stories on the incident to date -- all of which promote and/or support the protesters' side of the story, and none of which even mention the point of view of prosecutors and police beyond listing the charges that were filed against them. (One of WND's stories was a lightly rewritten press release originally issued by Repent America's legal representatives, the conservative American Family Association's Center for Law & Policy, as ConWebWatch has previously noted.)

The group started out under the WND moniker the "Philadelphia 11"; they became the "Philadelphia 4" when charges were dropped against many of them, then inched back up to the "Philadelphia 5" when an arrested teen girl in the juvenile justice system was remembered by Ron Strom, WND's writer on the arrested-Philadelphia-Christians beat.

Among the pro-protester talking points mentioned in nearly every WND story:

  • The group was merely "preaching God's Word" at Outfest.
  • The charges faced by the five protesters “could put them in jail for 47 years.”
  • The protesters were involved in a confrontation with a group called the Pink Angels, always described as "a militant mob of homosexuals"; it's also noted that "none of the Pink Angels were cited or arrested."
  • A video proves that the protesters were simply "peacefully evangelizing."

WND editor Joseph Farah spent a Dec. 20 column defending the protesters and railing against the police and prosecutors, taking care to repeat all the spin points. Farah wrote that the case of the "Christians are facing 47 years in jail for expressing their free-speech rights" is "one of the most brazen, frontal attacks on religious freedom and free speech I have seen in my lifetime." Farah claims that the protesters were "peaceful and calm at all times, despite what appears to be extraordinary provocation, intimidation and harassment," yet were arrested for "a long list of felonies and hate crimes that would make the Founding Fathers spin in their graves." Farah added: "If these charges stand, Christians across America will soon be hunted down like dogs as they are in many parts of the world today as the most persecuted religious group on the planet."

Yet for all of this apoplexy, WND has never reported what prosecutors and police have had to say about this case.

As a Dec. 10 Philadelphia Inquirer article notes, one of those arrested, Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America, "tried to interrupt a performance with his antigay preaching and then disobeyed a police order to move to the perimeter of the Outfest to avoid the potential for violence" -- all of which conveniently occurred prior to the start of that video that Marcavage and his attorney claims allegedly exonerates the protesters.

A Dec. 4 Inquirer story provides more detail, quoting Karen Brancheau, a lawyer for the local District Attorney's Office:

Brancheau said the 11 protesters tried to demonstrate in front of a stage performance at Outfest, a city-permitted event in 15 square blocks of Center City from Juniper Street east to 11th Street and from Walnut Street south to Pine Street.

Brancheau said the demonstrators were arrested only after they refused to go to an area on the edge of the block party and went instead in the opposite direction. Marcavage, with a bullhorn, then got into an argument with a group of Pink Angels, who screamed back.

"They were not prohibited from preaching," Brancheau added. "A reasonable request was made to prevent a situation from becoming dangerous to their own safety as well as the safety of the participants."

The closest WND has come to painting a realistic, balanced picture of what happened and what will likely happen is an unbylined Jan. 4 article covering that lamest and laziest of ConWeb story hooks, an appearance on a Fox News Channel show by the protesters' attorney, Brian Fahling. The show also had a legal representative to the OutFest event, Charles Volz, so WND sorta had to include his views, much of which are structured so that Fahling rebuts them. The article, surprisingly, gave the OutFest legal rep the final word:

Volz said he didn't think any of the protesters ultimately would go to jail.

"They might get six to 12 months probation," Volz said. "Nobody's going to jail for 47 years."

Of course, such a statement of truth by a non-conservative could not be allowed to stand without some sort of payback. Thus, a Jan. 10 story prominently quotes Volz in describing how Outfest organizers planned to "block Christians from access" to the event.

And a Jan. 5 story by Strom trots out a U.S. Justice Department employee "who spoke on the condition of anonymity" who claims that "[h]omosexual attorneys ... advised police on the scene" during the arrest of the protesters. The anonymous source allegedly told Strom that "he estimated between 10 and 11 percent of the attorneys in the Civil Rights Division are homosexual." Again, as WND has throughout this saga, Strom never details what the police themselves have said, although other news organizations have done this work that WND and Strom could easily cut-and-paste from.

The fact that WND refuses to do even that bit of plagiarism (though plagiarism has suited its purposes in the past) demonstrates how much WND is trying to force a political agenda on its readers -- and how little this "news" organization cares for telling the truth.

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